Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review of The Prodigals' "Brothers"

I posted this review on the Sputnik music website earlier this morning:

Review Summary: "Brother, father, husband, son; mother's cake and the morning dew. The candle lit to all you've done, and we bow our heads as we think of you."

The Prodigals are a rock band from New York City who combine traditional Celtic songs and melodies with rock rhythms. They describe their music as "jig punk". Unlike some of their contemporaries such as Black 47, Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, they're somewhat unknown beyond their home city and the American Celtic/Irish festival circuit. Nevertheless, they're certainly no less talented than their better known Celt-rock brethren.

Brothers, released in 2016, is The Prodigals' sixth studio album. The band on this LP consists of Gregory Grene on lead vocals and button accordion, Dave Fahy on lead vocals and guitar, Alex Grene (Gregory Grene's nephew) on fiddle, Trifton Dimitrov on bass and Brian Tracey on drums and percussion. Brothers contains thirteen songs, including six original songs, plus six traditional Irish pieces and one American standard rearranged in the band's own unique style.

For whatever reason, many of the more popular Celtic rock bands in the U.S. seem to feature lead vocalists with voices that challenge the ear, like Shane MacGowan of The Pogues or Larry Kirwan of Black 47. This isn't the case with The Prodigals. While Fahy has more of the traditional gruff voice often associated with Irish rock, Gregory Grene, who sings lead on approximately two thirds of the songs on Brothers, has a sweet, smooth voice that goes down as nicely as a pint of Guinness. He's also the songwriter for all six original tracks.

Brothers is one of the band's best albums to date. It does a stellar job of showing off their versatility on fast-paced classics such as "Tell Me Ma" and "Jug of Punch", as well as on slower, more sentimental numbers like "Snow Falls on Derrycark" and "Eileen Aroon". Alex Grene's fiddling is a particular joy throughout.

While the standards are well played and enjoyable throughout the LP, it's Grene's original numbers that give Brothers that little extra oomph. Particularly memorable are the album's opening track "Home to You" and the third track, "Song of Repentence". "Home to You" is a simple but wistful song sung by a well-traveled protagonist to his beloved homeland, while "Song of Repentence" is a track laced with both regret and acceptance, sung by a penitent man to the wronged lover he knows will never forgive him. Also of special note is the album's closing track "Candle", an a cappella tribute to Grene's deceased twin brother Andrew, who perished during the 2010 Haitian earthquake while he was working for the United Nations. (Hence, the album's title). 

The only real misstep on Brothers is its second track "Kansas City", a cover of the 1952 blues rock standard by the American songwriting team of Lieber and Stoller. While the song does allow the band to rock out a little and flaunt their musical chops, it's a case of "which doesn't belong and why" -- it just doesn't go with the rest of the LP. Even so, by any reasonable measure, you'd have to say that Brothers is a successful album. It will please people who are fans of the band already, and make new fans out of those who give it a chance. Admirers of bands like The Pogues, The Mollys, The Murphys or Black 47 would be likely to find this album a treat.

Rating: 3/5 stars